An Evolving and Rewarding Partnership
In 1966, Duncan Mellichamp visited UC Santa Barbara to give a chemical engineering lecture — a presentation that would launch over 50 years of teaching and ongoing dedication to the university. Shortly after, he was recruited to help create the Department of Chemical Engineering, now top-ranked among U.S. public universities. In between, he has mentored over 50 graduate students to degrees, starting with the first to earn a Ph.D. here in chemical engineering.
“Be careful what you start: it may change your life, and the lives of others,” Professor Emeritus Mellichamp advised during his 2016 commencement speech.
As members of UC Santa Barbara’s Gold Circle Society, Duncan and his wife, Suzanne, have changed countless lives. Duncan met Suzanne on a blind date when she was a young teacher living in her hometown of Dubuque and he was a graduate student visiting from Purdue.
“We started our marriage seven months (seven dates) later with little more than a box of love letters,” the couple confessed. Suzanne, who always wanted to be a teacher, taught for 30 years, including 20 years in Santa Barbara city schools. In 1970, she earned her master’s from the UC Santa Barbara Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.
The Mellichamps are known for the vision behind their gifts to UC Santa Barbara. Together, they have established 16 endowed chairs. Three clusters, each of four chairs for distinguished mid-career faculty, help UC Santa Barbara recruit scholars and build new research initiatives in programs such as systems biology, globalization, sustainable chemistry and — just announced — Mind and Machine (Artificial) Intelligence.
In addition to the clusters, each of which runs for 15 years and then rotates, the Mellichamps endowed a chair in process control, a program that Duncan founded at UC Santa Barbara, and in systems engineering, his present research area. Two more honor founders of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Instead of endowing these two chairs in full, Duncan inspired his community to match their support.
“I try to encourage people to associate with programs and the faculty here,” said Duncan. “It’s a unique privilege to be part of a world class program, and there is every opportunity to do that.”
Professor Emeritus Mellichamp remains active in university affairs and philanthropy despite retiring in 2003. He channels his energy into motivating others. Colleagues know him as the first person to stand up and take charge, such as when he volunteered to chair the 2014 Trustee Advisory Committee on Isla Vista Strategies — a group which changed that community.
Duncan has ventured far beyond labs and classrooms, and together, he and Suzanne have left an indelible impression on the wider Santa Barbara community. Their support of the North Campus Open Space helps preserve the natural wildlife of the California coast. Their plans advocate for giving now, and in the future, through blended gifts. Duncan is quick to make recommendations to friends.
“I think most people don’t treat giving money away the same way they treat making it,” said Duncan. “And not many have a well-planned exit strategy, but everyone can find ways of giving that have remarkable effects and that will be fun.”
To the Mellichamps, philanthropy is a rewarding and constantly evolving practice.
“Educating young people to become responsible citizens — who care for our environment, the arts and the community — is key. Santa Barbara has been our special community for 52 years,” said Suzanne.